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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"


The prediction and its experimental verification by Hum-
phrey Lloyd evoked unbounded admiration for young Hamilton
from those who could appreciate what he had done. Airy, his
former rival for the professorship of astronomy, estimated
Hamilton's achievement thus: 'Perhaps the most remarkable
prediction that has ever been made is that lately made by
Professor Hamilton/ Hamilton himself considered this, like any
similar prediction, *a subordinate and secondary result' com-
pared to the grand object which he had in view, "to introduce
harmony and unity into the contemplations and reasonings of
optics, regarded as a branch of pure science.'
According to some this spectacular success was the high-
water mark in Hamilton's career; after the great work on optics
and dynamics his tide ebbed. Others, particularly members of
what has been styled the High Church of Quaternions, hold
that Hamilton's greatest work was still to come - the creation
of what Hamilton himself considered his masterpiece and his
title to immortality, his theory of quaternions. Leaving quater-
nions out of the indictment for the moment, we may simply
state that, from his twenty-seventh year till his death at sixty,
two disasters raised havoc with Hamilton's scientific career,
marriage and alcohol. The second was partly, but not wholly, a
consequence of the unfortunate first.
After a second unhappy love affair, which ended with a
thoughtless remark that meant nothing but which the hyper-
sensitive suitor took to heart, Hamilton married his third fancy,
Helen Maria Bayley, in the spring of 1833. He was then in his
twenty-eighth year. The bride was the daughter of a country
parson^s widow. Helen was "of pleasing ladylike appearance,
and early made a favourable impression upon him [Hamilton]
by her truthful nature and by the religious principles which he
knew her to possess, although to these recommendations was
not added any striking beauty of face or force of intellect.'
Now, any fool can tell the truth, and if truthfulness is all a fool
has to recommend her, whoever commits matrimony with her
will get the short end of the indiscretion. In the summer of 1832
Miss Bayley -passed through a dangerous illness, , . , , and this
event doubtless drew liis [the lovelorn Hamilton's] thoughts